Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

What Is the Relationship of Religion to Economics?

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

What Is the Relationship of Religion to Economics?

Article excerpt

Abstract In this journal, Welch and Mueller (WM) (2001) demonstrated a classificatory method for conceptualizing relationships between religion and economics. No judgement can be drawn from WM as to which of their four classifications might be a, or the, correct one. They conclude that the relationships are "both complex and controversial", and that before any assessment can be apprehended adequately of how the two fields interact, "the permutations and subcategories implied by the system" used need to be identified and explored more thoroughly. This paper pursues that path, but argues that a more determinate verdict than WM's is possible. Here, an alternative interpretation of the relationship between religion and economics is investigated, in which WM's categories are assessed. In the alternative, WM's four classes are not taken to possess equal intellectual merit, as they appear to be. Using more current and comprehensive definitions of religion than WM's, a case is constructed that three of their four categories possess greater intellectual value than the remaining one. These three are here collapsed into one new mega-category regarded as that most validly describing the relationship between religion and economics.

Keywords: religion, economics, theology, options, relationship

INTRODUCTION

Assessing generic connections between religion and economics is an enduring issue (e.g. Brennan and Waterman 1994; Oslington 2003) and specifically classifying relationships between the two disciplines is a periodic occurrence. Of the latter performed by economists, Waterman (1987) used a four-fold classification, and Smith (1993) a three-fold. Welch and Mueller (WM) (2001) also explicated a method employing four categories or options by which the relationships between religion and economics can be organized. Their options include economics as separate from religion, economics in the service of religion, religion in the service of economics, and religion in union with economics. As with previous explorations of relationships between religion and economics, WM's approach leads to no result as to which of their four classes might describe the relationship most validly or correctly. Rather, their categories (2001:186, 200) embody "conflicting explanations", in which "the relationships between religion and economics are both complex and controversial, and that we have yet to arrive at agreed upon operational definitions about how the two interact". This paper suggests that a different judgement is possible if the religion variable used in framing their classes is defined both more comprehensively and in terms of more contemporary understandings than by WM, and if each category is then assessed using this understanding.

A case is developed that three of WM's four classes can be amalgamated into a new composite class or mega-category possessing greater intellectual validity than each of WM's categories independently. The three classes deserving amalgamation are economics in the service of religion, religion in service of economics, and religion and economics in union. "Greater intellectual validity" here means that the new consolidated class describes more accurately the content of religion and economics, and of the correct relationship between them. The label for the new mega-category is termed religion encompassing or subsuming economics, insofar as this term describes more closely the substance of widely accepted contemporary definitions of the major element of religion discussed here (theology) and of economics. If this re-classification of the relation between religion and economics is successful, only two alternatives are left describing the relationship--economics separate from religion, and religion encompassing economics. Most economists probably hold to the class, economics separate from religion. This paper argues further for the superiority of religion encompassing economics over economics separate from religion. …

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